A serial killer known as The Skull is prowling the dark streets of Los Angeles. Driving a customized death car, he chases down other motorists and forces them into fatal accidents. Though the police aren’t convinced that the Skull’s real, Rick Benton (Ken Wahl) knows that he’s out there. Rick was teaching his younger brother (Brian Robbins) how to drive when the Skull chased them down and ran them off the road. His brother was killed. Rick spent several days in a coma. Even after the police try to convince him that he was the victim of a drunk driver, Rick suspects that he and his brother were deliberately targeted.
Rick is a car guy, himself. After attending a support group for people who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers, Rick decides to take the law into his own hands. He modifies his pickup truck and then takes to the streets, tracking down drunk drivers and ramming them off of the road. He then calls the police, letting them know where they can pick up the drunks. Rick is careful to never actually hurt anyone but Lt. Frank Mason (Robert Culp) still isn’t happy that there’s a vigilante out there, taking the law into his own hands.
With all of Los Angeles wondering about the identity of the vigilante that the media has dubbed “The Gladaitor,” Rick prepares to track down the Skull.
The Gladiator was directed by Abel Ferrara, who brings his trademark style to the film. Rick is not just a vigilante with a super truck. He’s also a man who is clearly still in mourning and who deals with his own feelings of guilt by tracking down unsafe drivers. When he realizes that someone is deliberately killing other drivers, he becomes grimly obsessed with tracking down the Skull and, in typical Ferrara fashion, it often seems as if his quest for vengeance might leave him as unhinged as the man he’s trying to stop. Though Rick is clearly the fim’s hero and all of the drunks that he stops are obnoxious and deserving of what they get, Ferrara doesn’t blindly celebrate Rick’s actions. Some of the people who treat the Gladiator as a folk hero are just as dangerous as the ones that Rick is taking off the streets.
It helps the film that both the Skull’s death car and Rick’s vigilante pickup are pretty cool. Who wouldn’t want to own a truck that can fire projectiles at bad drivers? In typical Ferrara fashion, almost all of the action takes place at night and the chase scenes are excitingly filmed. Though the cars and the stunts may be the main reason to watch the film, Ken Wahl still does a good job with the title role and fans of Brian DePalma and RoboCop will enjoy the presence of Nancy Allen, cast here as a radio talk show host who is also Rick’s girlfriend.
The Gladiator is an effective car chase thriller. Watch it and drive safely.